By Charles Morgan III
Editor’s Note: Due to my lackadaisical attitude and the fact that we only had an extra week to get this issue together, we don’t have a new column by Charles this go-round. Fortunately, I was able to access the safe where Charles keeps his bound copies of every Beachcomber column he’s ever written, along with a copy of the E.T. The Extraterrestrial storybook LP autographed by Michael Jackson, Steven Spielberg, Quincy Jones and John Williams.
This piece originally ran in the October 18, 2007 Beachcomber.
I have a proposal for our local chamber of commerce. The chamber’s most visible, traditional role is that of welcoming new businesses to town. The Destin Chamber has held countless ribbon cuttings over the past decade.
Perhaps they could create a new ceremony, although it would be one that wouldn’t include champagne and flowers. How about a more somber gathering commemorating the padlocking of local operations that weren’t capable of weathering the onslaught of new chain and corporate businesses in our town?
Recently, while driving down U.S. 98, I played a version of the childhood game “I Spy.” Here is what I saw as I drove through Destin:
A chain restaurant, then a closed café, then seven chain stores in a row, followed by two closed local businesses, then four corporate stores, another closed local retailer, and then chain, chain, chain, chain…and so on.
There is nothing quaint about Destin anymore. There hasn’t been for a long time now. I know that we aren’t going back to the days of Odom’s Supermarket and cheeseburgers at the Jitney Jungle, but still…enough is enough.
The development that has gutted Destin and made our town as boring and monotonous as other cities is the ubiquitous strip center. It is time to stop heaping blame on beachfront condominium developers (though they certainly deserve their share of the blame), and start wondering how many more strip malls this town can bear.
Every national corporate store that opens in our town makes Destin a little less special.
For many of the corporate chains that locate here, the first and last act of community involvement is to join the chamber of commerce. Walmart, the world’s leading competition killer, spends far more money advertising their generosity than they ever give back to the community.
Can independent businesses survive in our area? Certainly, but it’s getting harder, particularly for newer startup ventures. Corporate operations have more staying power, they are much better funded, and they can generally operate more efficiently because of economies of scale. They are most often well managed, and for the most part offer good, tested products at reasonable prices.
But they can’t help but be boring, and they almost always take more away from communities than they leave behind.
Publicly owned companies with 2,000 restaurants in their portfolio are formidable competition for family-run eateries. They compete not only for an area’s dining market, they also compete for employees. And employees are already in short supply in our area. Consequently, the level of service at businesses in Destin has been on a downward trend for some time now.
I know that local folks aren’t going to stop shopping and eating at corporate chain stores. In many cases, they have little choice. But please exercise choice when you can, because if we don’t support our friends and neighbors, we can’t expect anyone else to.
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